With Matty Hayman’s inspirational victory at Paris-Roubaix still fresh in the mind, an impressive-looking group of road racing athletes assembled at the Kingdom Hall this afternoon, ready to replicate the performance over the course of New England’s undisputed toughest one-day classic, the Dangarsleigh Eroica.
In only it’s second year, the race has already caught the attention of several Pro Tour teams and rumours are already circulating that Fabian Cancellara will not retire this season but extend his contract with Trek Segafredo for a further year so he can race the Monument in 2017. Just 35K in distance, the deceptively tough race is a short but ruthless barrage across the unforgiving New England high country with riders relentlessly battered by crosswinds, contending with 6 sectors of rough dirt roads, including the much-feared Forest D’Angarsleigh which is tackled after less than 10 kilometres and the Hors Category assault of Knobs Rd, the final climb of the race.
Bourkey was determined there would be no repeat of his puncture in the Forest D’Angarsleigh the previous year, and he stayed up through the night rebuilding his race wheels and carefully constructing and inserting a protective double skin between tube and tyre. Designed to be bullet-proof and to also help him float over the rougher sections, it attracted envious looks on the start line. A last minute enquiry from Kirky about what tyre pressure he should be running resulted in a typically unhelpful range of responses from 40 to 140 psi, leaving him in a more confused state than normal.
With no neutral zone, the Go group of Dave Jenner, Wilf, Wilko and Captain Creagan tore up the road from the gun, recognising the need to get to Sector 6 before the chasing pack had them in their sights. Three minutes behind them were the fearsome Team Bourke and wildcard Pete ‘Spartacus’ Harris, ominously astride brother Ben’s FDJ-issue Lapierre CX steed.
Just 2 kilometres into the first section of pavé, Bourkey’s incredible floating tyres exploded. Fortunately the neutral spares vehicle was in close attendance and in next to no time he was comfortably sitting in the passenger seat having a cup of tea, his race over at exactly the same point as last year. Later, at the Bowling Club he would explain that this was because he hadn’t paid enough attention to the sidewalls in his design and that next year he’d have the perfect solution.
Without his race partner, Clint was still going strong but became isolated when Spartacus charged ahead, clearly at home crashing over the harsh corrugations at a ferocious pace. After a poorly executed and failed attempt to tag onto the back of one of the team cars at the start, the Scratch pair of Kirky and Rob were finally making good ground on the three-minute group ahead. Until they hit the gravel that is, at which point it became clear that riding on gravel was not a strength for Kirky. After some fairly disparaging exchanges between the two, they eventually shut up and concentrated on closing the gap to the leaders which they were advised by President Tindale was 4 minutes as they exited Sector 5 onto the welcome sealed surface of Enmore Road.
Up ahead, the lead quartet were down to three. They had rolled well together until the first dirt sector on which Wilf launched a vicious solo attack which saw him pull ahead by 50m from PC, in turn 50m ahead of Dave, with Wilko yet further behind. At the top of the hill they managed to bring Wilf under control and thanks to some strong work by him and PC in particular, were holding the chasers off quite well by the time they got to the 15k turn. Behind them Spartacus was in no man’s land but typically unfazed by this, he passed Wilko and set about chasing down the three leaders. Back on terra-firma, Kirky was in his element and Scratch were steadily making ground on Spartacus having collected Clint and Wilko along the way but then it was back onto dirt and so the complaining started again.
Sector 3 had taken it’s toll on PC who was now a spectator to a two-horse race at the front between Wilf and Dave. Wilf wasn’t giving any thought to tactics, just riding for the win and dragging Dave along with him. As they hit the climb of Knobs Rd though he had pulled out at lead of around 200m with Dave unable to remain in contact and PC further back still. Spartacus was still stuck in the middle, and Scratch further behind, having been given a time-check of 40s at the foot of Knobs Rd.
Turning into Simmons Rd and Sector 1 it looked like Wilf had the race in the bag and when he exited the dirt and hit the tarmac he still had a good lead and could start thinking about his celebration salute. As he passed under the Flamme Rouge the crowd (both of them) were on their feet but somehow Dave was managing to close the gap and Wilf was losing power rapidly. With just 200m to go Dave unleashed an unmatchable sprint and somehow came around to take the win by three seconds from an exhausted Wilf. PC came home for a hard-earned third just 45s later and 14s ahead of the charging Spartacus.
Congratulations to Dave, comiserations to Wilf and Bourkey but well done to all riders for completing a tough but hugely enjoyable race. Thanks also to handicapper Col and of course to race marshals President Tindale and Swanny who did an excellent job keeping everyone on course and upright throughout.
Next week we’re back on firmer ground with Round 3 of the Road Racer League – and with Mount Yarrowyck coming up in 2 weeks, it’s an extended 40k handicap to help tune the legs up.